Although former Times-Review reporter Pete Kendall covered a wide range of topics throughout his five decades of reporting for the Times-Review and other publications, he always maintained an affinity for murders and other unsolved cold case stories.
Because of Kendall’s dogged pursuit of facts and fresh leads in hopes of cracking a case, Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford and members of the Johnson County Cold Case Squad have often said they’re convinced Kendall must have always secretly longed to be a homicide investigator.
For that and other reasons, Alford plans to hang a plaque honoring Kendall, who passed away July 29, among others at the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
Kendall will be the sole non-law enforcement officer honored, Alford said.
“It was just an idea I had to thank Pete for all he did,” Alford said. “I looked at him just like any of our officers who gave their time and helped.”
Kendall was also the sole non-law enforcement officer to regularly attend the weekly meetings of the Johnson County Cold Case Squad, a group Alford established in 2004. Kendall had said he was touched and proud of the fact that, although he never served as a law enforcement officer, Alford and his fellow group members saw fit to issue him an official JCCCS identification badge.
The group comprises retired law enforcement officials who volunteer their time to discuss and investigate cold cases from Johnson County and surrounding areas. Kendall’s research and articles brought several such cases to the attention of JCSO and the cold case squad, members said. One such case involves a 1972 murder victim who, given that his identity remains unknown, officials dubbed Mr. X.
Alford credited Kendall with bringing attention to the Mr. X case, which now looks to be sitting on the verge of a breakthrough. Officials exhumed Mr. X’s body on Aug. 8 from an unmarked grave in Cleburne’s Rosehill Cemetery and may soon confirm a DNA match establishing his identity.
Rancher Sam Miller, on Dec. 11, 1972, noticed vultures lighting near a clump of cedar trees about 50 yards south of what is now County Road 1131 about 14 miles west of Cleburne and less than a mile from the Hood County line, Kendall wrote in a Times-Review story on the case.
Miller found the nude body of a man, about 30 years old, who had been shot twice at close range with a .25-caliber weapon. The fatal bullet entered the left side of victim’s chest and the heart.
Mr. X had been dead about four days by that time, during which animals removed several body parts, including his eyes. Officials believe Mr. X may have been killed elsewhere then dumped in rural Johnson County.
Attempts to identify Mr. X through fingerprints proved unsuccessful and he was buried in a pauper’s grave later that same year.
Kendall ran across the case while researching old issues of the Times-Review and thanks to a tip from retired Fort Worth lawman Jim Palmer and brought the information to the attention of the cold case squad in 2012. They subsequently obtained an order from Senior District Judge C.C. “Kit” Cooke to exhume Mr. X’s body to collect DNA samples.
A possible breakthrough in the case occurred after an Amarillo newspaper picked up earlier reports of Mr. X’s exhumation, said James Ferguson, a member of the cold case team.
Two possible relatives of Mr. X, one residing in Amarillo, the other in Pampa, said the composite sketch included in the Amarillo paper’s article resembles their cousin, Charles Jones, who family members last saw in the early ’70s.
“They both independently came to the same conclusion when they saw the [composite picture] and didn’t know the other had seen the same article,” Ferguson said.
One of the cousins contacted the Gray County Sheriff’s Office, who in turn contacted JCSO.
JCSO Detective Steve Shaw and Ferguson traveled to Pampa on Aug. 23 to meet with the cousins and obtain DNA samples. Those samples will soon be checked against Mr. X’s samples in hopes of a possible match.
Cousins being further removed in the family tree, a match would provide a good possibility of, but not definitive proof establishing Mr. X’s identity, Ferguson said. The good news, Ferguson said, is that Charles Jones had three sisters and four children who are believed still alive and possibly residing in California and/or Arkansas.
Team members are attempting to track those relatives down hoping to collect DNA samples, which would provide a more reliable match than those of the cousins, and learn more about Charles Jones.
The cousins, Ferguson said, are not sure why Charles Jones, if he is Mr. X, may have been in the Johnson County area in 1972.
“They said they lost touch with him before then,” Ferguson said. “He had been in the Marines then settled in California, got married and had a couple of kids. Apparently he left his wife and kids and moved to Arkansas where he remarried and had two more kids. After that, he just kind of fell off the grid. If we can track down the sisters or his children we’re hoping they can help us fill out the picture of his life a bit more.
“We’ve also received a couple of stories on how [Mr. X] may have been murdered and so we’re following those out to see if there’s any truth to them or not.”
Kendall, in one of the last articles published during his lifetime, wrote about Mr. X and the Johnson County Cold Case team in general in the July/August edition of Community Life magazine, a publication of the Times-Review.
In the article, Kendall recounts queries from a woman who wondered whether the cold case squad weren’t “pounding sand in pursuit of criminals they’d probably never catch.”
Kendall told the woman that she raised a good point then went on to give his opinion of why those pursuits matter.
“We’re not paid, so we’re not wasting county funds,” Kendall wrote in the article. “There is no statute of limitations on homicide. Technically, every unsolved homicide in the history of the world is an open case.
“Mr. X was not an important person. Had he been his family would have come forward demanding justice. It was as though nobody cared. Somebody has to care.”
That last line of the above quote will be printed under Kendall’s name on the plaque to be hung in JCSO, Alford said.
“That’s another one of the main reasons to honor Pete,” Alford said. “If it weren’t for him we wouldn’t have known about the Mr. X case and, if it wasn’t for Pete, we wouldn’t be close to a possible closure on this case.”
“That is why 11 retired law enforcement officers meet every week reviewing and investigating old unsolved homicide cases, which have occurred in Johnson County,” Ferguson said. “It might be hard for some to understand or be able to justify the man hours and effort spent on these old cases. But for the relatives, loved ones, acquaintances and neighbors of these murder victims, the not knowing, the why and the who done it is a lingering, haunting dilemma. Our ultimate goal is to bring closure.”
Ferguson said it’s ironic and fitting that one of Kendall’s last articles “so eloquently” summed up the spirit and mission of the Johnson County Cold Case Squad.